Rock and Roll: Stony Oregon Land Gets AVA


Friday was a very good day for Oregon's second-smallest wine region.
This past weekend the United States Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation for The Rocks District of Milton--Freewater”. According to regional wine website Great Northwest Wine, the decision brings Oregon's AVA total to 18.
“The Rocks District is considered one of the most unusual and distinctive grape growing regions in the Pacific Northwest,” Great Northwest Wines wrote. “Its primary feature is an alluvial fan formed by the Walla Walla River at the end of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago.”
In layman's terms, the area is strewn  with swaths of cobblestone rocks.
“The result is miles of cobblestone that, as it turns out, are prefect for growing wine grapes,” the article said.
According to the region's TTB petition, the AVA is located within Washington's  Walla Walla Valley AVA while being situated entirely in the state of Oregon.
Acquiring the AVA designation required that the Oregon contingent provided specific aspects of The Rocks which would make it unique in comparison to the Walla Walla Valley region – the rocks did the trick.
“The distinguishing feature of the proposed … AVA is its soil,” the petition read. “Approximately 96 percent of the proposed AVA is covered with soil from the Freewater series, including Freewater very cobbly loam and Freewater gravelly silt loam.”
Because the earth in the region is littered with cobblestones and, as the petition stated, features roots which dive 30 feet into the soil, The Rocks is markedly different than the “silt loams from the Walla Walla, Ellisforde, Yakima, Umapine, Hermison, Onyx and Oliphan series.”
Stones are a rare occurrence in these areas, further reinforcing the region's contention of uniqueness.
According to Great Northwest Wines, the area has about 250 acres of wine grapes.
Vines first came to the area in the mid 90's when French winemaker Christophe Baron visited friend Scott Byerley in the Walla Walla Valley.
With wine atlas in hand, Baron told Northwest he realized stony ground in The Rocks region was similar to France's Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
“He quickly understood the opportunity before him and purchased the land,” Great Northwest Wines said. “By March 1997, he began planting Syrah between the grapefruit-sized cobbles.” 
Baron said local farmers though he was crazy.
“Several farmers here in the area said the little Frenchman was crazy to plant a vineyard in the stones,” he said in the article. “ But in the years after, some of these farmers pulled out orchards and planted vineyards … Without the stones, I would not be here in Walla Walla.”

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